Subject Matter: Chase Budinger
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Contract: $5,000,000 in 14'-15' / $5,000,000 in 15'-16' (player option)
In the summer of 2013, re-signing swingman Chase Budinger to a long-term contract was one of the Wolves highest priorities in free agency.
Though Budinger was coming off a rough season, missing 59 straight games after tearing the lateral meniscus in his left knee and struggling to find his legs over for the last 17 games of the year, the team's wretched wing play made retaining him seem all the more vital.
When the Wolves re-signed him it seemed like a good move. I remember thinking the contract was a discount at the time (mostly because Martell Webster re-signed with Washington for $22 million over four years on the same day the Wolves locked up Budinger to a 3-year, $16 million deal). I was stoked to see what a healthy Budinger could bring to the table after another year of infinite sorrow from 3-point land.
Then, the Wolves lost him again last season. This time it was merely three days before the team was set to open training camp. Budinger went on to miss the first 34 games recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee, as well as the last six, and looked like a shell of his former self in the 41 games he did play.
The Budinger that once declared "white men can jump and I'm about to prove it right now," and leaped over P. Diddy during the dunk contest, has been missing in action for the better part of two years.
But there's reason to believe this season will be different. At media day, Budinger pronounced himself fully healthy and said his knees feel the best they have since his last surgery. He sounded excited to get the season started, and there was a real sense of hope heard in his voice, like this year will be totally different.
"It's been a rough, rough time since I've been in Minnesota, just with the injuries," Budinger says. "Hopefully this year will be the year that I can really show this town and this team how good of a player I am."
Amen. While Budinger may be seem like a popular "odd man out" candidate, or a prime nominee for "most forgotten" Wolves player, he's actually extremely valuable to this team and shouldn't be overlooked.
The Wolves were a bad 3-point shooting squad last year and lost their second best shooter this summer.
They finished 26th in the NBA, shooting 34.1 percent, and the year prior they finished dead last; almost setting marks for futility (30th in NBA, 30.5 percent). The Wolves only had two players in the top 100 in 3-point field goal percentage last season; Kevin Love and Kevin Martin (35.4 percent was the cutoff to make the top 100). The Wolves next two closest qualified* players were J.J. Barea at #140 (31.6 percent) and Corey Brewer at #148 (28 percent).
So, yes, the Wolves long range shooting should be a serious cause for concern, which increases the value Budinger brings to the team and ultimately the minutes he'll play.
Without Love in the picture (37.6 percent from deep on 6.6 attempts per game) the team must find new ways to space the defense so Nikola Pekovic and Thad Young, as well as Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Dieng off the bench, still have room to work in the paint. A healthy Budinger could go a long way in helping. Obviously he's not going to do it all by himself, it will take a collective team effort, but the Wolves need him to shoot and make a lot of 3-pointers this season.
One look at the current roster and it's clear that Budinger -- a career 35.7 percent shooter from deep -- is a favorite to bring shooting off the bench, along with Mo Williams and possibly Zach LaVine.
Corey Brewer has never been a guy you truly want taking 3-pointers, as Eric discussed in his player preview. Robbie Hummel can hit three's, but he's currently buried on the depth chart and there's no guarantee he even plays on a nightly basis. Shabazz Muhammad hasn't shown a 3-ball whatsoever, and Anthony Bennett needs to focus on being physical underneath the basket, rather than hovering around the perimeter like Derrick Williams was known for.
How will Saunders use Budinger this season?
Saunders should use Budinger as a backup wing, shifting between shooting guard and small forward, that primarily operates as a floor spacing 3-point shooter. A quick look at his career stats and shot charts shows that he specializes in shooting corner 3-pointers, 39.4 percent over his career, so Saunders would be wise to run an offense that gets him open looks in either corner.
Last year, 47.2 percent of Budinger's field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. Below is his shot chart from the 2013-2014 season, and also his shot chart from his last year in Houston (because he hasn't been healthy in Minnesota, which makes it harder to evaluate his stats/charts):
Budinger with the Houston Rockets in 2011-2012:
Reason to believe?
Budinger's best game last season, and perhaps the finest showing of his career in Minneapolis, was against the Miami Heat.
It was essentially the final game he played -- he logged one minute the next night in Orlando and sat out the last six games with an ankle injury to finish the year -- and he certainly went out on a high note. Budinger finished with 24 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assist, 2 steals in 38 minutes (including 5 of 7 from deep).
Yes, it's only one game, but it does give me some hope and reason to believe in a Budinger rebirth.
Head coach Flip Saunders was also extremely complimentary of Budinger throughout training camp in Mankato, according to Jerry Zgoda here, and other reliable sources confirmed as much last week.
One big impression from Wolves camp already: Chase Budinger is moving around better than he has since he came to Minnesota. Looks good.— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) October 2, 2014
Key observation from today's camp: Chase Budinger looks good. Be excited for what he can (finally) bring to this team.— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) October 3, 2014
Budinger appears to be healthy and the Wolves absolutely need his shooting this season. If everything goes smoothly, he should have his best season with the team.
* To qualify, a player must be on pace for 82 three-point field goals made.